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Thousands Cheer Ahmadinejad in South Lebanon

  • Heather Murdock

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, gestures to the crowds, with Hezbollah's commander in south Lebanon, Sheik Nabil Kaouk, right, during a rally organized by Hezbollah in the southern border town of Bint Jbeil, 14 Oct 2010

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, gestures to the crowds, with Hezbollah's commander in south Lebanon, Sheik Nabil Kaouk, right, during a rally organized by Hezbollah in the southern border town of Bint Jbeil, 14 Oct 2010

On Lebanon's southern border with Israel on Thursday, Iranian President Mahamoud Ahmadinejad spoke to tens of thousands of supporters in a town that was badly damaged during Israel's 2006 war with Hezbollah.

On one side of the massive, packed stadium, boys in school uniforms waved flags, and sang along with music blaring in Arabic and Farsi. On the other side, veiled women carried posters of their dead sons, casualties of the war with Israel.

In between, tens of thousands of fans whistled and cheered, every time a speaker mentioned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's name.

Hezbollah Supporters gather at a soccer field, as they listen to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech during a rally organized by Hezbollah in the southern border town of Bint Jbeil, Lebanon, on 14 Oct., 2010.

Hezbollah Supporters gather at a soccer field, as they listen to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech during a rally organized by Hezbollah in the southern border town of Bint Jbeil, Lebanon, on 14 Oct., 2010.

Four years ago, much of Bint Jbeil was flattened in the month-long war. And Iranian money helped rebuild parts of the area. Many Lebanese considered the war a victory for Hezbollah. Several of the organization's leaders are now members of the Lebanese parliament and cabinet.

The U.S. State Department designated the Shi'ite militant group a terrorist organization.

In Mr. Ahmadinejad's speech in the Hezbollah-controlled south, he praised Bint Jbeil for its resilience, and Hezbollah for its fight with Israel. The Iranian leader also railed against Israel and predicted it would, in his words, "disappear."

In Beirut Wednesday, Mr. Ahmadinejad criticized Israel, accusing it of violating Palestinian rights.

Analysts say the Iranian president's visit to Lebanon is a sign of Iran's growing influence in the country.

Tens of thousands of people turned out in support of the Iranian president in southern Lebanon and waved flags of Iran, Lebanon, Hezbollah and Amel, a Hezbollah-allied Shi’ite party.

Tens of thousands of people turned out in support of the Iranian president in southern Lebanon and waved flags of Iran, Lebanon, Hezbollah and Amel, a Hezbollah-allied Shi’ite party.

After the rally, on Bint Jbeil's dirt streets, people said they were thrilled by Mr. Ahmadinejad's stance toward Israel.
Abdul, a 36-year-old Lebanese-Australian, said the Iranian leader's speech shows that Lebanon, Syria and Iran are united against Israel.

"Israelis, they are very scared. Israelis, if they wanted to do something they would have done it now," Abdul said. "But they are scared and they can't do nothing at all. I'm sure Ahmadinejad, he will do something for Lebanon."

But when asked whether accusations of human rights abuses in Iran lessened his admiration for Mr. Ahmadinejad, Abdul asked reporters to turn off their recorders.

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